College/Prep Sports Reporter

Scott Richey is a reporter covering college basketball at The News-Gazette. His email is srichey@news-gazette.com, and you can follow him on Twitter (@srrichey).

Ubben overview
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Good afternoon everybody. It's a perfect time to knock out this week's chat, as I've still got some time to kill before tonight's Illini volleyball match. Not busy at 8 p.m.? Head on over to Huff Hall to see No. 17 Illinois (8-5, 3-1) take on No. 6 Minnesota (10-2, 4-0). The match will also air on BTN if you're not in C-U tonight.

Mix of questions today with volleyball the leader, but we'll start with basketball before the run of questions on Chris Tamas' third team.

How long will it take to raise enough money to commit to the Ubben renovation? — Craig V.

Let's do some math. The Ubben Basketball Complex renovations were announced on June 11, 2018. Through today, $3 million worth of donations have been announced of the $30 million total. So if it took 486 days to get 10 percent, the simple match tells me it will 4,374 more days to raise the final 90 percent. That's just shy of 12 years.

Good thing that's not how it will actually work. Let's use the Smith Center as example. I don't believe the entire cost of that building was funded through private donations. Part of it was financed. Same deal with Ubben. 

So, while I'd like to give you an exact date (and I'm sure Brad Underwood would like one as well), renovations won't start until Illinois feels it has raised enough money through donations to offset some of the cost of financing the rest.

Sorry, football question. Is it financially feasible for Josh Whitman to axe Lovie Smith? How many years are left on his contract, and what are the buyout details? I'm not happy with this year at all, but I'm not convinced that firing Smith is the right answer either. Starting over every 3-4 years hasn't been working for us. — Depressed Football Fan

Depends on what you mean by financially feasible. To some people, $4 million is still a lot of money. That's the buyout after this season. That number drops to $2 million after 2020 and then $1 million in 2021 and 2022. Lovie Smith's deal, which was extended after the 2018 season, runs through 2023. There's not really a buyout that year. At this point, barring another extension, he would simply be owed pro-rated compensation should he be fired before the end of that season.

Josh Whitman's decision, should he make one this season, will likely come down to the final five games of the year. Illinois is a 23-point underdog at home this weekend against Michigan, and that number will be similar next week at home against Wisconsin. Odds are against the Illini being anything but 2-5 at that point. The Purdue-Rutgers-Michigan State-Iowa-Northwestern finish will decide it. Some winnable games there. Should they actually be won, it will be up to Whitman to decide if that's enough "progress" in a year where both he and Smith said there had to be just that.

Beth Prince is hurting but we hope to get her back soon. Bruna Vrankovic put on a blue jersey at the end of the Nebraska match and hasn't been seen since. Is she hurt?

Any thoughts on the rotation with Megan Cooney at outside and Mica Allison at opposite? Seems to be working for now. I guess we'll see more on Wednesday evening but it looks like they're starting to jell and get some of the communication and timing things fine tuned. Thoughts on how they're doing overall?

Thanks, and keep 'em coming. — Sam B.

I can tell you that neither Beth Prince nor Bruna Vrankovic participated in Tuesday's practice. Prince is still dealing with her abdominal injury, and Vrankovic was riding a stationary bike toward the end when I was at Huff on Tuesday. I'd doubt either plays tonight, but they could be a surprise gameday call.

If Megan Cooney plays like she did this past weekend, then I'd say the 6-foot-4 junior at outside hitter has become a good thing for Illinois. Her production was solid, if not a bit up and down, earlier in the season, but consistent play like she put up against Indiana and Purdue could be a huge deal for the Illini. Mica Allison at opposite is a bit of a work in progress, but I think she's getting more in a groove as a hitter. Worth mentioning she didn't do much of that for a full year at Auburn. It's always a learning curve at the Division I level, and it's a steeper curve in the Big Ten.

But, yes, it does seem like the current lineup is starting to mesh well. Cooney told me her connection with Diana Brown is getting better every day, and Brown told me a couple weekends ago that she's getting in sync with her middles. Having Kennedy Collins perhaps locking down that second spot can only help with that connection in the match. A consistent lineup is certainly more ideal than the mix and match approach from the first month of the season.

Seems like the volleyball team is starting to gel, it was a rough start with all the newcomers, and all the injuries. What happened to Beth Prince? Do you think she will play this year ? I think Diana Brown has done a great job at setter, she’s seems to have really good leadership skills as well. Also moving Megan Cooney to the Left Side has really helped her game. Really like Coach Tamas and his staff and what they are building. On a side note I heard Jacqueline Quade is headed to UCLA to play Beach Volleyball once she graduates. That’s really cool....hope to see her on the Beach Volleyball Circuit soon.

Thanks for your updates. — Melissa M.

I honestly don't know if/when Beth Prince will play again this season. She's being evaluated on a day-to-day basis with her abdominal injury. If she gets healthy enough to play, that would be a big time addition for Illinois. I would imagine Megan Cooney would shift back to opposite, and Prince would slide back into her traditional spot at outside hitter. That would get both top hitters in and also utilize Cooney's block on the right better.

Jacqueline Quade is, in fact, going to play beach at UCLA this spring. I wrote about that today, which you might have seen.

If Jacqueline Quade has used up her eligibility at Illinois, how would she have an extra season of eligibility to play beach volleyball after transferring to UCLA? — Marty A.

Yes, college athletes have five years to play four seasons. However, if you don't take a redshirt year and then choose to play a second sport after your initial four seasons are up, you can play a second sport for a single season. That's how Quade, who graduates in December, will be able to grad transfer to UCLA and be eligible to play for the Bruins this spring.

Closer to home, it's how former Illinois softball standout Taylor Edwards is playing this year for the Illini women's basketball team.

Scott Richey covers college basketball for The News-Gazette. His email is srichey@news-gazette.com, and you can follow him on Twitter (@srrichey).